Traditional Italian Ricotta Cheese Easter Cookies decorated
with Vanilla Glaze & Candied Lemon Slices
(An eggless adaptation from Linda K’s recipe on www.AllRecipes.com)
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Cookies and breads are a natural culinary venue as I have decades of baking experience. Made homemade bread the old-fashioned way with yeast, double-risings, and hand-kneading back in the mid-70’s. My oldest son Marc, still a toddler, liked to bang pots and pans at my feet in the kitchen.
I was a natural baker. The problem was everyone in our communal household, in particular THIS baker, tended to eat MUCH more bread, when it was fragrant and warm from the oven! (sigh)
As Marc approached his third birthday, I returned to working part-time and got a job as a professional baker at Pine Street Bakery in Sausalito CA. Pine Street was a women-run enterprise with only two male employees, our delivery truck drivers. Most everyone else – the owners, the bakers, and the bookkeeping staff – were working Moms. Some of us were married, others single, and all with kids, so we appreciated working part-time for a decent hourly wage….a business concept ahead of its time.
Unfortunately, though everyone’s faces are still so familiar, their names are hidden at the edges of my memory, almost remembered…but not quite.
(I’m fourth from the right, partially hidden in the back row.)
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Pine Street specialized in HUGE – truly ENORMOUS – chocolate chip cookies. After baking, each cookie was about 8 inches across, maybe even larger…can’t recall for sure after 33 years.
‘Marco’ took his GIANT number 3 birthday cookie and showed me it could also be an ‘M’. Marc had started Montessori preschool and was learning the sounds of the alphabet. (Please, be reassured I did keep the kitchen floor clean, though I’m not sure it was “clean enough to eat off of!”)
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We learned to use commercial Hobart mixers with mixing bowls that came up to our mid-thighs. One recipe batch called for 100 pounds of flour (we women carried those sacks ourselves from the backroom – thrown over our shoulders and braced against our sturdy pelvises!). Then we added a 50 pound box of semi-sweet chocolate chips, 2-3 dozen eggs (we got good at cracking them two at a time, double handed), lots of butter – don’t remember how much anymore – and sugar, salt, vanilla, etc. The quantities were astonishing.
We scooped the finished cookie batter into a machine we called “The Plopper.” Looked sort of like a large rectangular funnel with two openings that dispensed the gooey contents onto cookie trays carried on a conveyer belt table. The dough “plops” looked and sounded much like fresh cow “patties,” but of course smelled divinely of fresh butter, vanilla, and chocolate chips.
The trays of cookie dough – 8 plops apiece – would be stacked in tall, wheeled, racks to await loading into the commercial oven….a lot like a multi-tiered rotating pizza oven that ran the entire length of the wall. We wore thick, long oven mitts up to our elbows to keep from being burned as we loaded/unloaded the oven. Used up dozens per month. And baked many dozens more cookies every night.
Our shifts started at 3-4pm and went to 11pm-midnight. One baker would get the late shift, which was rotated among us, and have to stay ’til 1am while the last oven full got baked and then unloaded. We’d leave those cookies to cool to be packaged up the following day by the “boxers” and retail sales staff.
Damaged and day-old cookies were sold for a discount at the front counter. Sausalito’s bay breezes wafted the irresistible chocolate-vanilla-butter fragrance for blocks, enticing people without fail to our front door by following their noses. Who could possibly resist the smell of freshly baked cookies! It was such an EASY sell….
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Now, back to this week’s baking…
Linda K. comments “These soft Italian-style cookies are a hit with everyone. The ricotta keeps them moist, and the recipe yields a large batch, which is great since the baked cookies freeze so well. Do not freeze the unbaked dough. You can decorate them with chopped candied cherries, colored sugar or candy sprinkles.” Rated: 4.5 Stars
2 cups organic sugar OR white sugar
1 cup organic (salted) butter, softened
15 ounces ricotta cheese (no gelatin)
2 teaspoons (organic) Penzey’s double-strength Vanilla extract
1/4c organic buttermilk OR 2 free-range eggs
4 cups organic all-purpose flour (sift well before measuring accurately)
2 tablespoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt (rather than 1 teaspoon since the butter was salted)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. In a large bow, with the mixer a low speed, beat the sugar and butter until combined. Increase speed to high and beat until light and fluffy (about 5 minutes). Reduce speed to medium and beat in the ricotta, vanilla and eggs.
3. Reduce speed to low. Add flour, baking powder and salt; beat until dough forms.
4. Drop dough by level tablespoons, about 2 inches apart; onto the prepared baking sheets. (I made extra large cookies, more like 2 tablespoons per cookie, because they needed to be large enough for the candied lemon slices I was planning on using.)
5. Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for about 15-18 minutes or until cookies are very lightly golden Cookies will be soft & cake-like.
NOTE: I switched the cookie trays halfway through the baking and rotated them, front to back. It still took several minutes longer to bake than the time suggested.
6. Let the cookies sit for 5 minutes. With spatula, remove cookies to wire rack to cool.
7. When cookies are cool, prepare icing.
VANILLA GLAZE (Used a favorite family recipe, rather than the one Linda suggested.)
2 cups sifted organic confectioners’ sugar
(measure carefully without packing)
2 Tablespoons organic, salted Butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon pure organic Vanilla
3 tablespoons organic whole milk
Or, try this:
LEMON GLAZE (One of many options)
2 cups sifted, organic confectioners’ sugar
(measure carefully without packing)
2 Tablespoons organic salted Butter, melted
2 teaspoons of grated Meyer lemon zest
Juice of 1 lemon
Combine melted butter, milk OR juice, flavorings (ie. vanilla, almond extracts ~ or zest ~ or cinnamon, nutmeg, etc. or liquors) in a bowl large enough to carefully mix in the confectioners sugar with a large spoon until smooth. With small spatula or the back of a large spoon, spread icing on cookies or drizzle over the cookies artistically. (I had trouble ‘drizzling artistically.’ Had a great idea, but need MUCH more practice!)
OPTIONAL: Embellish the top of each cookie with confectionery decor of your choice: candied fruits, colored sugar or candy sprinkles, silver dragees, slivered almonds or walnut halves, etc.
Servings: 36 (72 medium or 50 larger cookies)
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This is a super EASY, super YUMMY, delightfully VERSATILE cookie recipe. Has the classic butter-sugar-vanilla flavor of sugar cookies complemented with a subtle cheesecake flavor from the ricotta. The cookies are thick, tender & cake-like with a delicate soft chewiness.
The flavorings could be taken in many different directions by adding some cinnamon or nutmeg or cardamom; lemon or orange zest; dried blueberries, currents or cranberries; using a Maple Syrup or Orange glaze…whatever your favorite choices may be.
Many reviewers on www.allrecipes.com completely miss the yumminess, describing these cookies as “bland and uninteresting.” Huh? Maybe they didn’t use real organic butter or perhaps the double-strength Penzey’s vanilla was just the right touch ~ but these cookies are WINNERS in my family for their delicate, addictive, deliciousness even ‘naked’ without any frosting or decor!!!